Emmys Laud Diversity on Both Sides

The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be remembered for the number of historic firsts achieved by women and people of color as the television industry continues to recognize contributions from both groups in front of and behind the camera.

While industry executives lauded the Emmy spotlight on diverse content and performers, though, many of them said there’s still a long way to go before Hollywood fully embraces inclusion across the board.

Notable Emmy milestones achieved during the Sept. 17 primetime CBS telecast included actor Donald Glover becoming the first African-American to win an Emmy for outstanding directing for a comedy series, for FX’s Atlanta; Lena Waithe winning the first outstanding writing for a comedy series Emmy for an African-American woman for her contributions, along with Aziz Ansari’s, to Netflix’s Master of None; and Riz Ahmed earning the first Emmy in a major acting category for a performer of Asian descent for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for HBO’s The Night Of.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus also became the first actress to win six consecutive outstanding lead actress in a comedy Emmys for her portrayal of Selina Meyer in HBO’s Veep.

Emmy voters also honored Sterling K. Brown with the Emmy for outstanding actor in a drama for his role in NBC’s This Is Us; he is the first African-American actor to win the award since Andre Braugher (whom Brown saluted) in 1998.

Reed Morano was the first woman since 1995 to win the outstanding directing for a drama series Emmy with her contributions to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which itself was the first show from a streaming service to win the Emmy for outstanding drama series.

Seen As a Positive Sign

“I’m happy to see more people of color getting prestigious awards that people actually pay attention to, and I’m hoping that it shows the industry that casting people of color, and in particular Asians, in lead roles is good commercially and critically as well,” Miguel Santos, general manager of Asian-American targeted multicultural network Myx TV, said.

He added, though, that the media industry needs to incorporate more diverse talent in the writers’ room and director’s chair if it is to continue to create content and characters that better reflect the stories and the images of people of color and women.

Currently, those numbers are abysmally low. The percentage of persons of color creating scripted shows on broadcast, cable and digital streaming services during the 2014-15 TV season were all in the single digits, while female show creators ranged from 22.4% among broadcast shows to 20% for cable and streaming services, according to the 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report: Setting The Record Straight released this past February by the Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA.

White male actors accounted for more than three-quarters of scripted roles for cable and broadcast shows, according to the study.

“At this point, it’s all about getting opportunities to actors of color to play bigger roles, and not just the usual token role,” Santos said.

Michael Schwimmer, president and CEO of Hispanic-targeted network Fuse, lamented the lack of Hispanic actors, directors and writers within this year’s group of Emmy nominees and award winners. He added that the void of strong, quality lead roles for Hispanic performers is alarming.

Talk Means There’s Need for Action

“A lot of folks in Hollywood don’t have a daily experience with Latinos that allows them to escape beyond stereotypes,” Schwimmer said. “The fact that we’re talking about diversity as much as we are tells me how much of a problem there still is.”

Women in Cable & Telecommunications CEO Maria Brennan said the marker for true diversity and inclusion is when the industry no longer has to talk about how well it is doing adressing the issue.

“It will be a very good day for women and people of color when we no longer have to take a magnifying glass to tout how pleased we are that these important groups are beginning to get recognized,” Brennan said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.